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Why training and specialization is needed for peer review: a case study of peer review for randomized controlled trials

Jigisha Patel

Author Affiliations

Biomed Central Ltd, Floor 6, 236 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8HB, UK

BMC Medicine 2014, 12:128  doi:10.1186/s12916-014-0128-z

Published: 30 July 2014



The purpose and effectiveness of peer review is currently a subject of hot debate, as is the need for greater openness and transparency in the conduct of clinical trials. Innovations in peer review have focused on the process of peer review rather than its quality.


The aims of peer review are poorly defined, with no evidence that it works and no established way to provide training. However, despite the lack of evidence for its effectiveness, evidence-based medicine, which directly informs patient care, depends on the system of peer review. The current system applies the same process to all fields of research and all study designs. While the volume of available health related information is vast, there is no consistent means for the lay person to judge its quality or trustworthiness. Some types of research, such as randomized controlled trials, may lend themselves to a more specialized form of peer review where training and ongoing appraisal and revalidation is provided to individuals who peer review randomized controlled trials. Any randomized controlled trial peer reviewed by such a trained peer reviewer could then have a searchable ‘quality assurance’ symbol attached to the published articles and any published peer reviewer reports, thereby providing some guidance to the lay person seeking to inform themselves about their own health or medical treatment.


Specialization, training and ongoing appraisal and revalidation in peer review, coupled with a quality assurance symbol for the lay person, could address some of the current limitations of peer review for randomized controlled trials.

Peer review; Evidence based medicine; EBM; Randomized controlled trials; RCT; Clinical training; Medical education; Reporting guidelines; CONSORT